LAHORE: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) maintained on Thursday that the money laundering case against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz had not been withdrawn and was still pending before the trial court.
The explanation came in response to media reports based on an application by FIA special prosecutor Sikandar Zulqarnain Saleem filed before the trial court on April 11 — before the present government was sworn in.
The previous government led by the PTI engaged Mr Saleem, a lawyer of the Supreme Court, as a special prosecutor of the FIA in the case against the then opposition leader Mr Shehbaz and his son.
Mr Saleem, in his application, said the director general of the FIA, through the investigation officer of the case, conveyed to him not to appear in the case as the accused persons were going to be elected as the prime minister and the chief minister of Punjab.
“So maybe the quarters concerned were not interested in prosecuting the accused persons,” the prosecutor said in the application titled “Intimation”.
Ijaz Hassan Awan, the presiding judge of the special court (Central-I), then made the application part of the case record. On the next hearing held on April 27, the prosecution team members — Aqeelur Rehman and Munazza Shaheen — appeared before the court accompanied by investigation officer Nadeem Akhtar.
However, Mr Sharif and Mr Shehbaz did not appear before the court as they were busy due to a federal cabinet meeting in Islamabad and a session of the Punjab Assembly, respectively. The court allowed their pleas for a one-time exemption from personal appearance.
The judge adjourned the hearing until May 14 for the indictment of the accused persons and the arguments of the defence counsel against the charge sheet.
However, in a statement issued on Thursday, the FIA said, “A fake news is circulating in the media regarding withdrawal of the case against political leaders of a party in Lahore.”
The watchdog said the case had not been withdrawn and proceedings were continuing in the court and warned it could take legal action against those involved in proliferating the news regarding the letter.
“On April 11, the prosecutor of the case submitted his opinion-based application in the court regarding change of the prosecutor, wherein he was instructed not to appear on behalf of the prosecution. He mentioned the investigation officer through the then DG FIA. He was allegedly asked to not appear as a prosecutor. It was not a withdrawal application,” the FIA insisted.
It added that Sanaullah Abbasi was the FIA DG at the time and the new prime minister had not yet taken the oath when the application was submitted to the court.
“Tahir Rai was appointed as FIA DG on April 22. This matter pertains to the timing before his arrival in the FIA,” the statement said.
The agency stated that the change of prosecutor was a “routine matter” and the same had been done several times in the same case by the previous government as well.
Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2022